In spite of expressing some skepticism about the game in a recent podcast here, Final Fantasy XV quickly won me over once I started playing it. It was much better than I felt it had a right to be, and for the first time in at least a decade, I found myself getting attached to the characters and world of a new Final Fantasy title after having grown accustomed to merely tolerating them. And towards the end I found that there were even some themes worth talking about here.
But to talk about them I’m going to have to spoil a lot of the game’s story, so read on at your own risk!
Final Fantasy XV takes place in the world of Eos and centers around Prince Noctis, crown prince of the nation of Lucis, and whose royal family has been entrusted with a magical crystal of immense power. When the Niflheim Empire occupies Insomnia, assassinates the king and steals the crystal, Noctis and his retainers set out on a journey to take back the crystal and reclaim the throne.
Over the course of the game it turns out that the true purpose of the crystal and Noctis’ bloodline is to stop the Starscourge, an event which is slowly overrunning the world with daemons and plunging it into endless night. The crystal would provide Noctis with the power to defeat the Starscourge, although the use of that power would end his life.
And Noctis is only the second king chosen by the gods to fulfill this task: Ardyn, the game’s main villain, is revealed to be the original Lucian king. Two thousand years prior he was given incredible powers to prevent the Starscourge, and used them to take its evil into himself. This resulted in his own corruption; although he gained immortality from the process, he became cursed by the gods and driven away by his fellow men. Thus he spent the years waiting for a new chosen one to appear so that he could avenge himself against the gods and the royal line and hasten the return of the Starscourge.
The game is a bit vague on the details of Ardyn’s fall, but given that the conclusion of Noctis’ story arc is his embrace of the heroic sacrifice required of him, I like to think that Ardyn’s failure was in not doing this, in trying to seek out some seemingly less costly alternative. Noctis finds peace in the face of his own death, while Ardyn spends thousand of years in a living hell. It reminds me of the biblical paradox: “Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it” (Luke 17:33).
Christians are all called to pick up the cross and unite their own suffering and death with that of Christ’s. (Matthew 16:24, Romans 6:3-4, Colossians 1:24) For some of us, that happens very dramatically through martyrdom. But for a lot of us, it consists in the various sacrifices and self denials we make day-by-day out of love of God and neighbour. And in the end, all of us will conclude our walk by following Christ into death.
In this regard Noctis reflects something of the Christian life. At the start of the game he doesn’t come across as particularly regal or even noteworthy in any way. But the challenges and sufferings he faces over the course of his journey gradually shape him into becoming the sort of man capable of fulfilling the destiny entrusted to him, just as our own crosses, if accepted for what they are, gradually shape us into the person God has destined us to be from eternity.
Mortality and fragility inform much of the game’s story in other ways. One of the main characters is blinded in an attack, and the player is made to experience the strain this places on everyone as the heroes press on. When Noctis finally arrives at the empire’s capital to take back the crystal, he finds it completely desolate: the empire’s own weapons have turned against it, wiping out the populace and leaving the capital as a forsaken landmark of its hubris. By the time Noctis finally returns home to reclaim the throne, a decade has passed, and much of the world he knew has gone by without him.
In this sense Final Fantasy XV‘s story is a memento mori in its reminder of this world’s fragility and impermanence, and the ultimate vanity of worldly ambition. But of course we aren’t supposed to be satisfied with this world: God has made us for another one. The consideration of our own mortality shouldn’t be a cause for despair, but rather a reminder that we should seek a hope greater than that offered by the world, and that what we may have given up in the course of our walk pales in comparison to what is to come.